In addition to utilizing spaces within the city, David Harvey reiterates the notion that residents also have the right to make changes to already existing spaces. This fundamental “right to the city” allows residents to reimagine what society could be and possibly its inhabitants. Building from Robert Park’s notion that in building cities to their likeness, man has redesigned himself, Harvey states “the right to remake ourselves by creating a qualitatively different kind of urban sociality is one of the most precious of all human rights”. The notion that we change ourselves in creating our world, Harvey argues is the dialectical relationship guiding human labor.
The paradox lies and weather what we have built is creative or destructive. Harvey asks whose rights and whose city? Does the city serve all or is it reserved for a select group? Is it socially just or are the rights of one group more important than the rights of another? Although he gives a nod toward Utopian planning and justice ideals, he prefaced it with Thrasymachus’ argument that justice is simply what ever the ruling class wants it to be. I think Harvey is trying to say that we must strive for a socially just society, but the minority must sometimes fight to attain these rights.
Privatization of government offices is not new to the 21st Century. Neoliberalism became very popular in early 20th century in order to counter act the negative economic impact experienced in major US cities at the height of industrialization and suburban flight. Christopher Mele divides this neoliberal form of government into two phases; the “rolling back” phase when local governments relaxed regulations in order to attract city development; and subsequently the “rolling out” phase when governments partnered with private industry to develop large venues such as casinos and sports stadiums, to enhance economic profit within the city. Mele presents the case of Chester, Pennsylvania, a small, industrial city in the southeastern part of the state, as an example of the two phases neoliberalism.
Chester, PA is a poor city with high rates of crime and gang activity, as well as poor quality schools. Similar to other major cities in the US at that time, the city of Chester experienced industrial decline and suburbanization, leaving the city poor and desolate. Following poor city planning and redevelopment initiatives, the city has become fragmented with each piece having its own specific functions and demographics with little interaction between them. These disjointed enclaves are a result of the first wave of “chasing the smokestacks”, a local version of “rolling back”, which is characterized as actively rolling back urban land use policies while the government prepares to promote private sector development. Following the rollback period of the 1980s, the “rolling out” phase of neoliberalism began in Chester in the 1990s, as the government incentivized private industry capital to invest in their cities. Specifically targeted were sports and entertainment industries.
These public-private partnerships did not take into account concerns of citizens as evidenced by the noise and air pollution emanating from the waste management zone along the waterfront, causing citizens to become concerned with their health and well being. Instead of accommodating private development, private partnerships have come to define how public spaces are used, and these practices further disenfranchise already marginalized groups from the public atmosphere.
What Does public mean? Who do public spaces (streets, sidewalks, parks, etc.) belong to? Who defines their use? Seath Low argues that the control and use of public space is determined by homeowners, power elites, corporations, local government and city planners. These “public” spaces have become privatized, excluding certain groups from utilizing them. Preventing disenfranchised groups from entering and utilizing public spaces further alienates these marginalized groups, removing from the public eye altogether.
Discouraging use of public space by all groups removes the chances for social interaction and exchange of ideas. No longer will diverse groups interact and learn from each other. Setha Low states that through the privatization of public space, Americans are losing valuable public space within our cities that serve as hubs for political and social action. Privatization occurs when private groups acquire public space, forcefully limit access and utilization thorough extraneous rules, such as limiting the number of shopping bags and sitting on landscaped seating walls (both are clearly geared toward homeless) and heavily surveil those that do enter.
Low presents specific instances of privatization of New York City’s public spaces including the World Trade Center Memorial, which was turned in to another “cemetery” according to battery Park City residents. Through interviews, residents had expressed their preference to have greater economic vitality by encouraging more businesses and visitors. Concerns of the residents were not taken into consideration when the memorial was eventually constructed.
Low and colleagues performed ethnographic studies at parks, historic sites, and beaches and from that research, developed principles that encourage cultural diversity in urban parks and historical sites, especially as they relate to retain the history of culturally diverse groups. Creating space to encourage diverse interactions is important in retaining positive characteristics of the urban life.
Many cities define spatial areas that are off limits to certain social groups in order to control types of undesirable behavior. These forms of control are not always obvious. Obvious regulatory methods include surveillance technologies and zoning laws, such as drug free zones, gun free zones, and panhandler free zones, which are developed to regulate certain behaviors from occurring. Other, less obvious methods of social control were implemented in specific areas of cities to regulate the space in which the behaviors happen. Examples of spacial regulation include deterring socially unacceptable behaviors in certain areas but allowing them and others, such as prostitution and gambling, and gated communities preventing entrance of “undesirables” to specific areas.
The regulation of public space governs the whole population, and actually serves as an anticipatory mechanism developed to prevent behavior that may happen instead of punishing offenders after they have acted. Merry considers this form of social control “governance through risk management” rather than “preventing transgressions”. As governments shift more to risk management practices, the operation of police forces have also shifted. Law enforcement subsequently attempts to secure spaces by keeping out criminals altogether, rather than preventing and/or punishing criminal activity in those spaces.
Merry provides three distinct forms of governance: punishment, in which offenders are punished; discipline, focuses on reforming offenders using training in therapy; and security, where the goal is to prevent the offenders from sharing space with potential victims through spatial segregation. The author describes how each is used in approaches to prevent gender-based violence. The first form of government, punishment, was the preferred form of action for offenders from about 1970 to 1990. Punishment for gender violence included mandatory arrest, no drop prosecution and mandatory incarceration. In the 1990s, the preferred method for governing batterers was disciplinary action, which were levied against the person, rather than the offense. This method incorporates therapy and group support systems. The third form of governance, security, involves securing the general population form potential threats from offenders. These methods attempt to mitigate dangers by predicting who may engage in gender violence and then preventing the offense from happening. An example of this is restraining orders that prevent offenders from engaging with their victims.
The examples of governance described above will have negative effects for some sections of society but the author argues that they have proven beneficial for poor women and encourages governments to reconfigure practices that are more conducive to a postmodern, globalized world.